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IN THE GARDEN: Gifted elephant ears better off stored until spring

by Janet B. Carson | December 19, 2020 at 1:45 a.m.
Most elephant ears are winter hardy, but it's too cold to plant bulbs in December. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Janet B. Carson)

Q A friend of mine is moving to a more northern state and gave me a bunch of elephant ears they had dug up. What do I do with them? Do I replant, or store them? If I store them, how?

A While most elephant ears are winter hardy, a few of the showier, fancy varieties would benefit from being dug and stored for the winter. Since yours are already dug, storing them for the winter is what I would advise. Get a large cardboard box, fill it with shredded paper, shipping peanuts or other dry mulch. Space out the elephant ear bulbs in the dry mix and then store the box in a cool, dry area for the winter. Wait until frost has passed in the spring and then replant.

Q I have pecan and apple trees, and small woodpeckers have covered the trunks with holes. How do I stop them?

Sapsuckers are among the birds that tap holes into tree trunks to get at burrowing insects. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Janet B. Carson)
Sapsuckers are among the birds that tap holes into tree trunks to get at burrowing insects. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Janet B. Carson)

A Woodpeckers or sapsuckers often pick one or two trees in the yard and revisit them each year — in my yard it is a loropetalum "tree." The result is a tree trunk riddled with holes. While it usually doesn't harm the tree, aesthetically it isn't too pleasing. There are certain months they come each year, so when you first see them, take action. There are a few things you can try. One is to buy a brown tree wrap and lightly wrap the stem of these trees. You can use the wrap plain, or you can coat it with a sticky substance called Tanglefoot. The birds won't light on it because of its stickiness. Remove it after a month or so and see if that has encouraged the birds to move to your neighbor's tree. You can also try hanging shiny objects on the lower limbs or a large, inflatable owl to try to scare them away. Some gardeners have great success with this — others don't. Whenever we deal with birds or animals, a variety of approaches is your best bet.

Q I am not a gardener, but I am hoping you can help me. A good friend of mine gave me a large, beautiful poinsettia for the holidays, and I have only had it a week and it is already shedding leaves. I am watering it religiously. What is wrong and how can I help it last — at least through the holidays?

A The most common errors with poinsettias are overwatering and low light. These plants have been grown in a bright, sunny greenhouse for the past few months, and like sunlight during the day. If there is still a foil wrap around the pot, check to see if it is full of water. Let the plant get slightly dry before watering it again, but do give it a sunny location. Poinsettias really are easy-care plants with even moisture and bright light and can give you color for months, not just through the holiday season.

Q I have a Christmas cactus that has been in my family for years. I always moved it outside for the summer and indoors for the winter, and it was covered with blooms. I moved into an assisted living apartment two years ago, and the light is not as good as it was in my home, nor do I have any place to put it outside. It gets quite a bit of light most days but it hasn't bloomed since I moved. Do you have any suggestions for me to make it bloom?

A Holiday cactus plants are considered short-day plants, meaning they do best with short days and long nights. But they bloom best if the plants are exposed to temperatures in the mid-50s to 60s for several weeks. If you leave it indoors year-round, in a room with constant temperatures with lights on in the evenings, it will not bloom as well. Put the plant in the coolest room in your apartment, a room that gets dark at night, and see if you can't instigate some flower buds. If you have a spare room, turn the heat down in there and keep the cactus away from lights at night, and it should bloom for you.

Retired after 38 years with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, Janet Carson ranks among Arkansas' best known horticulture experts. Her blog is at arkansasonline.com/planitjanet. Write to her at P.O. Box 2221, Little Rock, AR 72203 or email jcarson@arkansasonline.com

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